Monday, May 27, 2002

May 27-31, 2002

MAY 27, 2002

Today's a holiday, no school, no work, no worries ... except that I've got so very much to do. I've already slept too late, lingered too long over my coffee, postponed posting to my Web site. And now there are all these THINGS that I was going to do with the long weekend still waiting to be done. Housecleaning. Moving things back from where they were dislocated by painting. Picking out some new furniture that will withstand vicious and messy use by children. Housecleaning. Writing notes to teachers. Helping children write thank you notes for birthdays that are now months past. Reading piled-up newspapers and magazines. Housecleaning. Previewing schoolwork for next week. Helping my son take a computerized test for an on-line enrichment course. Making notes for his IEP. Reading "Sarah, Plain and Tall" with my daughter so that when she reads "Skylark" next week in class she will know who those people are. Putting sticky poster tape back up on freshly painted walls. And did I mention housecleaning?

Ah, the weekend seemed so long two days ago. There was so much time. Where did it all go, exactly?

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MAY 28, 2002

My son's IEP meeting last week went pretty well. We talked about his activity level and his tendency to be out-of-focus, we talked about the progress he'd made in all areas in spite of that, we talked about his academic abilities and the fact that he now, at the ripe old age of nine, knows how to skip and do jumping jacks. The teacher surprised me by suggesting he skip the next level on his self-contained special-ed track and go to the one ahead of that. But by far the most thrilling moment of the meeting was when the social worker finished her report and said that she thought they could all agree that this boy's mother really knows him well. And they all did.

Imagine that -- a child study team agreeing that a mother knows her child! How incredible! How unprecedented! How immensely gratifying! And what a big improvement from earlier in the year, when our former child study team leader (now retired) told me that I should listen to my daughter's teacher, who knows her; this being a teacher who had "known" her for all of two months. Who knows, though -- perhaps they still think I don't know my daughter, only my son. I won't know about that until her IEP meeting, which this time around falls in the fall. I'm thinking maybe I'll ask.

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MAY 29, 2002

For the past three months, I have been playing phone tag with the Director of Special Education for our school district.

Well, that's not quite true. For one thing, playing tag implies that occasionally I get tagged back, and that hasn't happened. I do the calling, and no one does the calling back. It's hard to play tag when the other person won't chase. And for another thing, this particular Director of Special Education has not been on the job for three months; he's new, and therefore oh-so-busy, don't you know. So for some of that three-month span, my messages were being ignored by other, transitionary personnel. The Director of Special Education himself has only, in fact, been ignoring me for a couple of weeks.

Last Monday I escalated from phone calling to faxing, a technique that with the previous director got me a response right quick. But this time, nada. And the same for the three follow-up phone calls I made yesterday. I'm reluctant to escalate to the next level -- registered letter -- because the request I'm making is really more in the nature of a favor than the pursuit of a government-given IDEA right. I could be gotten rid of so easily; I just want a little information, or even to be told that I can't get that information right now. Just a little respectful explanation would probably make me go away for a while. And I can't even get that.

Sometimes, I think what our special-ed department really needs is a Director of Public Relations. Or, at the very least, a Director of Calling People Back.

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MAY 30, 2002

The back windows of our house look onto the front lawn of our local high school. We get concerts when the marching band practices in the parking lot, we get an early look at next year’s baton twirlers and cheerleader wannabes, and in late spring, when everybody goes to the prom, we get a good view of the smashed-up car that serves as a warning sign to teen-agers: Don’t Drink and Drive. Don’t Speed While Driving. Don’t Drive Unsafely. And Don’t Do Anything Else That Would Make Your Car Look Like This.

At the point the car gets towed to the grass outside our window, it’s pretty dented up. Then it gets smashed up -- with baseball bats, maybe, I’ve never seen them do it -- until the windows are broken and the tires are flat and the poor thing looks like David Letterman dropped it off a 10-story building. Then it gets grafitti’d with sayings like “No!” and “Think!” and “Don’t!” and “Live!” This all happens over the course of weeks, and is an endless source of fascination to my car-obsessed son. He can tell you what make and model the car was for each year since we’ve been living in our house and witnessing the car-nage. He goes to visit the car every day, talks to it, gives it a pet name (this year’s victim, a mini-minivan, has been dubbed “Mini”), leaves it flowers, yells goodnight from our window every night. He panicked one day when he saw that teen-agers had tipped the car on its side overnight, and will be sad when it finally gets towed away.

The smashed-up car has made an impression on him, but does it make an impression on the students it’s meant to scare? Maybe not. The paper yesterday had a story of a senior from the school dying in a car crash in which several other students were injured, and while the police were not releasing information about whether there was alcohol or recklessness involved, I couldn’t help but think of “Mini,” and whether it had been smashed in vain.

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MAY 31, 2002

Starting tomorrow, Hallmark joins Wendy's in the adoption promotion business with its glossy-looking new series "Adoption." The Hallmark Channel program, sponsored by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and Dave Thomas's favorite restaurant, starts with an episode involving adoption from Romania, Ethiopia and Texas, followed the next night by another Romanian adoption and the story of a birthmother trying to find the right open adoptive family. Episodes then follow one a week, with storylines including adoption from China, Guatemala, Vietnam; open adoption, special-needs adoption, fraudulent adoption, disrupted adoption; searches for birth parents and birth siblings. It sounds like a pretty fair sampling of the adoption experience, and all the stories, as they say, are true.

It will be nice to see adoption treated in an upbeat fashion (hey, it's Hallmark) on a weekly basis, even if it's just on an extended cable channel that many people don't get. It will be a good test to see if people will watch a non-sensationalistic treatment of the subject. The channel's Web site for the show offers, along with episode descriptions through August, many adoption-related links, a FAQ and a download of the Dave Thomas Foundation's "Beginner's Guide to Adoption." And, for the post-adoptive among us, an opportunity to share our stories -- not on TV, you understand, but on the Web site. Condense your adoption experience into a graceful 250 words, and your essay may be selected by Hallmark's editors for posting on the site, providing inspiration to the pre-adoptive. You'd think they'd at least throw in a lifetime supply of cards or something.

Monday, May 20, 2002

May 20-24, 2002

MAY 20, 2002

Have you noticed that it's not possible to buy a simple box of bandaids anymore? I'm thinking about those hinged metal boxes of my youth that had one or two of just about every size of bandaid you could possibly want, from stubbed pinkie toe to bicycle-accident gash, just plain and simple brownish plastic bandages you could rely on. Now, of course, there's no end to the variety. Standing before my store's first-aid aisle I'm confronted with all manner of cartoon character bandaids, see-through bandaids, fabric bandaids, no-stick bandaids, medicated bandaids, bandaids specially configured to wrap around fingers, bandaids treated for curing warts, large wound bandaids, wound moisturizing bandaids ... it's all a little overwhelming. I'm never sure if I'm buying the right thing, and so we have all different boxes with all different bandaids cluttering our closet, to be sorted through frantically when blood is flowing. Ah, things were so much simpler in those primitive days of my youth.

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MAY 21, 2002

I'm feeling like a bad mother these days. It started last week when the moms on one e-mail support group started going on about how horrible TV is, how tremendously damaging it was, and how any decent mom would not let her tots take in so much as a stray second of Sesame Street. I was reading these messages as my daughter started at her third straight hour of the Disney Channel and my son spazzed out to SpongeBob SquarePants. And what's worse is that sometimes they want to stop watching, and I make them keep at it, so I can, you know, keep reading e-mail and stuff. Bad mom.

Now this week the "Barbie Is Evil!" thread has made its semiregular appearance on another e-mail group (it circulates on a rotating schedule with flame-throwing discussions of circumcision and working vs. stay-at-home moms). It always starts with Barbies and then expands into a discussion of other terrible toys and overpriced fashions and all manner of materialistic excess. And I'm glad that my fellow group members can't peer through their computer screens and see the enormous piles of toys and junk I've purchased for my kids, or allowed to be purchased for them. Bad, bad mom.

Now, it's true that my daughter never, ever plays with her Barbies or shows the least bit of interest in them; and it's true that my son would rather play with a shopping bag than just about any toy in the house. But it's also true that I would buy them just about anything if I thought it would buy me a little peace, and that I'd be happy for my daughter to be label- and fashion-conscious if it meant she would stop wearing the same pair of grubby sweatpants day after day after day. Bad mom, maybe so. But goodness, you know, I can't be perfect all the time.

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MAY 22, 2002

We're having the inside of our house painted this week, which has me in a total harried panicked frenzy. Emptying out one set of rooms, then filling them up again with the stuff from other rooms, nothing in its place, clutter everywhere, dust thick in the air, and paint smell, paint smell, paint smell. It's disruptive to my small sensory-integration challenged boy, who cherishes his high-piled mishmash of STUFF and now has to live without it until we can get everything finished and put back together; it's disruptive for my language-challenged daughter, who likes everything predictable and just so and now finds them just so not. But mostly, it's disruptive to me, and that makes it doubly disruptive to everybody else, because I'm not doing stress particularly well.

Perhaps the most sobering thing about all this moving about of junk is realizing just how very much of it we have, hiding beneath tables and under sofas and in corners and on top of desks. It doesn't help that my husband is not a packrat and would just as soon shovel the stuff up and throw it all out, and so I have to supervise every movement of debris from one spot to the next. It's gotten so bad that I yelled at the poor man not to even think about throwing out the sack of ripped up plastic bags and pieces of paper my son had been hoarding in his room. Clearly, the clutter gene has been passed to the next generation, and since he's adopted, that's quite a feat. I know we'll both feel better, though, when all our cherished useless items are back in their proper place, free to gather dust once again.

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MAY 23, 2002

Last night, my daughter performed in the band and chorus concert at her school. It was probably more exciting for me than for her; she was a little nervous, and a little self-conscious, afraid everybody would be looking at her. I tried to assure her that the only ones looking at her would be her loving family, but she’s not even all that thrilled about US looking at her. She’s like the sun; we must always look at her obliquely. But she got up on stage, and she played her trombone, and she sang, and to this mom’s ears it all sounded sweet. There were times during the year when she hated that trombone, and times when she begged to quit the chorus, but she kept at it and made it through. And that’s the highest note of all.

I have to say, though, that I was also pretty proud of her brother last night. He’s in neither band nor chorus; too young for both, at this point, and too rambunctious for both for always. But we did bring him to the concert, although it was against my better don’t-put-him-in-positions-where-he-can’t-be-successful judgment, and darned if he didn’t sit pretty quietly through the whole hour-long thing. Of course, he did kick his shoes off and lie down across the laps of his aunt and uncle, demanding to have his feet gently tickled, and one time he did ask to go to the bathroom, but other than that he was the soul of decorum. The second most thrilling part of the evening, after watching and hearing my girl make music, was being able to look around at other, much noisier younger siblings and tsk.

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MAY 24, 2002

I think this is about the first year in school that my son has really had buddies. He likes most of the kids in his self-contained class, and they like him. They play together, and sometimes they get in trouble together. The energy level coming off the lot of them at a birthday party or play date is intense, and I can imagine they often ramp each other up in the classroom, too. But that's boy stuff, and it's nice to see my son, finally, being one of the boys.

And so, of course, it's now being proposed that he leave that old gang of his and move to a different classroom.

This is just another one of those cases in which children with special needs, who need MORE consistency and predictability in their lives than non-impaired children, actually get less of it. At a birthday party last weekend, a few moms were talking about how their regular-ed kids had started pre-K together and now here they were all the way in the fourth grade. And I had to reflect on how my daughter, now in fourth grade at age 12, had attended three schools and been in four completely different groups of children during the same period -- all in the same school district, but bopped around special-ed style. My son, at age 9, has also been in three different schools and four completely different groups of children. Now, maybe 5. Whereas the optimal situation for him, at least, would have been one teacher and one perfectly suited group of kids staying together for years, learning and growing with and from each other. Ah, well. Pie in the sky.

I'm sad to think of my son losing his buddies, and moving to yet another group. But I'll probably say yes anyway. There are good things about the change. For one, it's at the same school, and so he'll still be able to play with his pals at recess. For another, the proposal is to skip him ahead one class, and since academics are his strong suit, anything that keeps him sharp and high-functioning on that score will be a plus. And I have to admit that the teacher is probably right when she suggests that getting him away from his similarly high-tuned buddies and into an older, calmer group will only improve his behavior. Whether it will improve his social development, which is way delayed, will remain to be seen. He's certainly gotten social this year, if talking to your friends when you're supposed to be studying counts. Maybe not.

Monday, May 13, 2002

May 13-17, 2002

MAY 13, 2002

Well, here's a study that's sure to inspire sympathy among us all ... NOT. Telemarketers, those scourges who call us during dinner and insist that we listen to sales pitches for things we neither need nor want nor really even asked to hear about, are losing their voices. Vocal distress -- ranging from dry throat to hoarseness to utter voicelessness -- is a regular occupational hazard, scientists at the University of Nebraska discovered, and may in fact be causing the poor dears to talk softly and call less. And although I do always try to think of those determined souls yapping away on the other end of the line as hardworking individuals trying to support their families and not as pushy pests trying to ruin my day, may I just take a moment to say ... hooray! There's justice after all.

The one word of warning in this study, however, is that the thing that most likely causes the vocal damage is not merely the frequency of speaking -- or even some sort of cosmic payback -- but the way that telemarketers tend to lower the pitch of their voices to sound more authoritative, and also to speak at a higher volume than absolutely necessary. Which may give those of us who frequently scold our children in a loud, booming voice cause for concern. Come to think of it, I believe I'm feeling a bit hoarse myself.

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MAY 14, 2002

They say that people with fetal alcohol impairments will always need an "external brain" to help with reasoning and organizational matters their "internal brains" want no part of. That seems true of my boy now, and in the future will likely mean that he'll never be truly independent -- he'll need his dad and I to keep charge of him, or a good group home, or in maybe the best-case scenario a really bossy wife.

I got a glance at what that last option might look like this past Saturday, when I acted as his aide in his end-of-second-grade religious education class.

I didn't recognize the girl, and I was touched when she came over to my son and asked if he wanted to be her partner as they walked to the music room. I was amused to hear her barking at him in about the same tone of voice I use to keep him from wandering off, and relieved to see that he listened to her no better than he listened to me. She was a little fed up by the time they got to their destination, and I made him come sit with me and walk back with me after the music session was finished. I figured she'd about had it with him, and I didn't blame her.

But I was wrong. When we got back to the classroom, she asked my boy if he wouldn't like her to move to the empty desk next to him. She asked if they could work together on a coloring project. She spoke to him in that high patient voice adults use on babies and toddlers -- urging him to color exactly the way she was and not, say, use the black crayon to color in the Virgin Mary's face, as he was determined to do -- and I didn't know if I wanted to hug her for being so nice or smack her for being so dang condescending. But he didn't seem to mind; as he does with his bossy mom, he listened to her when he felt like it and ignored her when he didn't (although even he squawked when she reached over with her crayon and inserted a comma into some words he'd written.)

I don't honestly know whether she was really intrigued by him or just thought she was doing her good help-the-handicapped deed for the day, but it was nice to see another child in a mainstream setting show that much interest in him. And a little unsettling, too -- because although a bossy wife may be a good thing for his future, I'm sure not ready yet to give up my status as bossiest woman in his life. Keep your distance, girlie.

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MAY 15, 2002

My son's been showing a lot of interest in taking walks lately, and I've been pleased because walking is something I could really use to do. Finding time to exercise -- and finding exercise I can stand -- is becoming more of an issue as my cholesterol goes up and my waistline expands and swimsuit season draws inexorably near. How nice to find a way to get some movement in my life and also spend time with my boy. You gotta love multitasking.

Problem is, my idea of walking is a nice brisk stroll that gets the heart pumping, burns calories and, you know, is over in a reasonable period of time. And my son's idea of walking is ambling along, taking in the scenery, interacting with the environment, and staying outdoors as long as possible. While I'm trying to keep the cardiovascular pace, he's stopping to pick dandelions. Read car license plates. Talk to statues in our Civic Center sculpture garden. Sit on the sidewalk and rest. Pet dogs. Pick up rocks. Pull leaves off trees. Hug trees. Even, from time to time, kiss trees. Dilly-dallying galore. And though walking with my guy isn't exactly a heart-healthy experience, it sure does my heart good to see his imagination, inspiration and energy at work. Besides, rounding him up again and again has to burn a few calories, right?

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MAY 16, 2002

We have begun to look for dogs, albeit in a laid-back sort of way. It mostly involves my son and I stopping by the local animal shelter on our ambling walks and seeing if there's anybody new who's meant for us. He and I both have our favorites among the dogs who very clearly are not right for our family: There's a golden labrador retreiver that I could easily give my heart to, but already there in the cage I see that he can jump higher than our fence would hold. And there's a black lab that is as delighted to see my son as he is to see her, jumping and barking and carrying on (both the dog and my son, as it happens), but I can tell that that dog is the canine equivalent of my boy, and we've already got one of him. A clear case of doggie ADHD there. I had to laugh reading the shelter's description of her on its Web site, which reads in part: "I'm a very friendly young lady with lots of energy. I really need a home with someone who has lots of energy too. I need some obedience training but we can work on that together." With a change of gender, the same could be said of my son.

So far, we haven't found our canine match, but there is endless time. I'll admit to snooping around from time to time, searching for the perfect smallish dog, just as I used to poke around the on-line databases of adoptable children back when I was thinking about adding an extra child instead of a four-legged creature. There's an unsettling similarity between the two types of Web sites that someone who easily gets up in arms about unsuitable uses of the word "adopt" could probably, well, get up in arms about. I'm not, and I don't. I mean, just wook at all the wittle puppies! Maybe browsing is the next best thing to having one. And when my husband the non-dog-lover realizes that I'm talking about getting a pooch at the same time I'm talking about getting new living room furniture, that may be as close as I'll come.

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MAY 17, 2002

I guess it's a sign of the times: Accompanying the children on my daughter's fourth-grade field trip yesterday -- in addition to teachers, aides, and me and the other class moms -- was a nurse whose job it was to administer the midday meds. It makes sense, I guess; a need for medication does not go away when the school building does, and if the teachers aren't allowed to administer at school they shouldn't have to do it in the field. But it seemed odd all the same to have a traveling pharmacy aboard the bus. The woman was not the normal school nurse (who presumably had to stay behind to do med duty for the non-field-trip-going masses), and so she went around introducing herself to each class so the kids who needed to find her at noontime would know who to look for.

The trip was to a historical park, where we toured houses from the 1870s and learned from costumed presenters what life was like way back when. One of the stops was an apothecary's shop, and while the woman behind the counter talked to kids about more primitive meds, I took a look at the barber shop display on the other side of the room. I enjoyed the sign that gave the prices for haircuts: men, 10 cents; boys, 8 cents; and wiggly boys, 9 cents. Never did find out how much the apothecary charged wiggly boys. Or whether she went on field trips, too.

Monday, May 06, 2002

May 6-10, 2002

MAY 6, 2002

My son went to a bowling birthday party on Saturday with a bunch of his school buddies, and watching them interact with each other with maximum rowdiness reminded me once again what an absolute saint their teacher is. To not only put up with their turbo-driven rambunctiousness, but to teach them something too! It's a miracle is what it is.

The highlight of the afternoon -- for the boys, to be sure -- came during the brief pause between lunch and cake, when they all decided that making a rude noise against your arm was just about the funniest thing any person could do. The raspberry chorus was pretty much unstoppable; you'd get one of them to quit, and then another would do it, and they'd all jump in again. It's just boy stuff, of course, tuned to a high degree by the fact that they all have neurological impairments that make them especially impulsive and hard to transition from one track of behavior to another. Their teacher puts up with this every day, and then comes back for more. Give that woman a raise.

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MAY 7, 2002

Field trip season is hard upon us at my children's school. Earlier in the year, after Sept. 11, I'd heard that all field trips were cancelled; but now, the district's rules have softened to allow field trips to anywhere but New York City. So, no Bronx Zoo for the second graders, but they can go back to the same Crayola Factory in Pennsylvania that they went to last year. Yippee, another day of chasing my son around while other kids obediently look at demonstrations involving dye and hot wax. Another long, long bus ride. And, on the plus side, another half hour or so in a really nifty gift shop.

My daughter's class is going to an historical park, which should be interesting to all those kids who are heavily into social studies, of whom my girl is decidedly not one. She's also not so into having her mom tag along on field trips, but sadly for her, I'm a class mom this year, and I'm sure enough coming. Sure hope she doesn't try to ditch me for some other class mom. But worst comes to worst, I can always drown my sorrows in souvenirs. The kids are allowed to bring $10 each, and I'm betting that means they have a pretty fine gift shop there, too.

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MAY 8, 2002

Is my son a math whiz? I guess it depends on when you're looking.

He's the kind of kid who will fuss and complain and whine that his math homework is too hard, and then after fifteen minutes of fighting sit down and do the problems in minutes, quickly and correctly. Last night, at a family math workshop at his school, he sat and struggled and counted on his fingers and came up with wrong answers when I asked him to do math equations, but when a friend across the table struggled with his sums, my boy shouted out the right answers without a second thought. His child study team leader reports that when she tested him in math, he sometimes made mistakes when the problems involved carrying into the hundreds and thousands column; which sounds bad, until you realize that before that test, he'd never done addition with hundreds and thousands columns. And that his writing is so messy, he could have had the correct answers and she would never have known.

Is my son a math whiz? Maybe. It would be nice to think so. And even nicer if he wanted to act like one.

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MAY 9, 2002

For a few minutes there, yesterday, I thought my son's classroom had the youngest discipline officer in history.

I was working in the library when his class visited, and one of his little classmates, a relative newcomer I hadn't gotten to know yet -- but who clearly remembered whose mom I was -- came up to me and very officially informed me that my boy was misbehaving. He had, in fact, been misbehaving all week, I was told, and I should be punishing him. I raised my eyebrows and thanked him for the suggestion. Later, he said the same thing in front of my son's one-on-one aide, and when she clearly didn't know what he was talking about, I felt a little better.

Later, the teacher came by my library desk and commented that I'd met the "class kvetch," and that this kid had self-esteem issues they really needed to work on. I guess I can see how pumping oneself up by knocking someone else down is a self-esteem issue; but if so, there are an astonishing number of adults in workplaces around the country who struggle with low self-esteem as well. And here, I always thought they were just weasels.

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MAY 10, 2002

Yesterday I thought I'd give myself a treat and read a book that had absolutely nothing to do with learning disabilities, behavior management or FAS/E, my usual favorite subjects. I'd been saving up "Comfort Me With Apples," the second memoir by food writer Ruth Reichl, for just such an occasion. Her first reminiscence, "Tender at the Bone," which covered her unpredictable childhood with a manic-depressive mother, her beginnings as a chef and a writer, and her marriage to her first husband, had been tasty fun. And now, with IEPs looming over my head, I figured I could use a second helping.

And for most of the way, it was just what I needed. I followed Reichl through jobs with New West magazine and the Los Angeles Times, through affairs and a second marriage, and through many meals so elaborate and strange that I would never want to eat them myself, but certainly enjoyed reading about them. Still, once you become obsessed with certain themes, you tend to find them everywhere -- and I started losing my appetite when, toward the end, the book came to the part of her trying, unsuccessfully, to get pregnant. A little close to home there. And then she and her husband are given an opportunity to adopt a baby, to whom they instantly become attached. And then the birth mother comes back to claim her, and they must give her up. I almost stopped reading; we'd morphed from food memoir to horror story.

The only way for the book, now quite close to the finish, to end happily, I thought, is if she does manage to get pregnant, unexpectedly. I launched into the final chapter with that thought in mind, and then was horrified all over again, as she left her husband after a romantic interlude and went off for 10 days of heavy drinking in Barcelona with some of California's greatest chefs. With each bottle of wine, each cocktail, I thought: If she's not pregnant at the end, I'll be sad for her; but if she is pregnant, and she's drinking like this, I'll be scared for that baby. The book did indeed end with a positive pregnancy test, and mention of her son, 11 years old at the time the book was written. No mention of how well he came through that Barcelona trip; I'll have to wait for the next memoir to find out if it's an FAS/E book after all.